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Literature / The Halfblood Chronicles

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The Halfblood Chronicles, sometimes called the Elvenbane Trilogy, is a series of Fantasy novels by Mercedes Lackey and Andre Norton. They take place on a world in which humans are slaves to the cruel and sadistic elven race, and a race of shapeshifting dragons watch warily from the remote deserts.

The heroine of the first and second books is Shana, a girl born from a human concubine and an elven lord, a combination that is considered extremely dangerous since such a cross can access both human and elven magics in equal measure. Her mother escaped the death sentence such a pregnancy carries by escaping into the desert, but ultimately died there giving birth to her. Shana was adopted by Alara, a dragon shaman.

The dragons enjoy playing cruel pranks on the elves utilizing their shapeshifting, and one of them is the prophecy of the Elvenbane, a half-elf child who will bring the downfall of the elven race. When Shana is set adrift in the world, it seems that this prophecy might have more weight than the dragons ever believed, if only because the elves are determined to make it self-fulfilling.

The trilogy consists of The Elvenbane, Elvenblood, and Elvenborn.

Not to be confused with that kind of half-blood. Nor that one.

These books provide examples of:

  • Action Girl: Shana. Stuck in the middle of the desert? She starts plotting how to get herself out. Collared as a slave? She tries to figure out what happened to her magic and how she can get it back and/or escape. Human children about to be culled by the elves for having human magic? She's rounding up a party to break them out.
  • Affably Evil: Lord Dyran is a borderline case; see Pragmatic Villainy.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: Myre for Alara. Alara is one of the kindest dragons in the setting, adopting the half-human, half-elf baby Lashana and eventually helping with Lashana's rebellion against the elven lords. Myre is lazy, vain, and a bully who views all non-dragons (and even many other dragons) as nothing more than playthings.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Each Elvenlord holds their position because they have enough magic to take and keep it.
  • Battle Ballgown: In Elvenborn, the protagonist's mother has a dress made of a million bazillion tiny metal plates with diamonds over them. Though she isn't shown fighting in it, it is implied to be very old and come from a dangerous time. The protagonist, who is a military expert, theorizes that "it could turn a blade."
  • Barefoot Captives: The elven lords keep their human harem women barefoot. When one of the women asks why, she is told that it's done to make it harder for the women to run away.
  • Blond, Brunette, Redhead: Kara, Gianna, and Rennati, the three young women bought to be Kyrtian's harem. Kara is sweet-natured and Gianna acts as the leader of the three. Rennati, however, is not really a Fiery Redhead and instead is quite intelligent and clever. (Though she does have a passion for dancing and is the one that feels the most confined as a harem slave.)
  • Cannot Spit It Out: It never occurs to Valyn to tell Shana the reason he can't return her crush is that he's figured out they're probably half-siblings. As Mero says, elflords are really bad at honesty.
  • Defector from Decadence: Valyn is a case study. The son and chosen heir of one of the most powerful Elven Lords, and having no family tradition of "heresy", he got it into his head that humans are for lack of a better term people all on his own. Later on, Keman, Alara, and half-a-dozen other dragons do this when their Lair refuses to get involved in the halfbloods' problems.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • Alara is a single mother. Dragons apparently aren't big on monogamy.
    • In Elvenblood, the sympathetic elf lord's father disappeared when he was a child.
  • Divide and Conquer: This is how the elves took down the last halfblood rebellion.
  • Dragon Rider: The dragons allow themselves to be used this way by the resistance.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The state of the war before Shana got involved. The elder wizards were just as bad as the Elvenlords, even if they couldn't be as blatant about it. Once Shana took the lead, however, La RĂ©sistance underwent a Conspiracy Redemption.
  • Fantasy Contraception: In Elvenbane, it's stated that human women in the elven harems have contraceptives mixed into the very food they eat, allowing the elven lords to have fun while not worrying about siring a hybrid. Shana's mother contemplates a rival must have switched her food for the food the elves ate every day for a month for her to conceive. What contraceptives are used are never touched on, and the only discussion of whether magic can affect fertility is when Lord Dyran uses his to enhance his and his wife's fertility to fulfill the marriage contract as quickly as possible.
  • Gender-Restricted Ability: Elven males and females are trained differently; males train in big, powerful magics and scorn the weak "female arts," while females learn to use small amounts of power with utmost control and finesse. However, this is a matter of culture and training, not actual physical differences; one female Elvenlord is every bit as powerful as her male counterparts, and Lord Dyran became the most powerful elf of all by mastering both styles of magic.
  • Genocide Backfire: The elves kill every halfblood they get their hands on, especially children and the unborn. Unfortunately for them, this directly led to Shana being raised by dragons, stirring up the remaining halfbloods to action, and bringing the dragons into the war.
  • Gladiator Games: Conflicts between elvenlords are dealt with by having their human gladiators fight each other.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Shana and all other known halfbloods, who are the results of elven lords impregnating their human slaves. The half-bloods/wizards are implied to be infertile, though it's never directly stated. The wizards find and save new half-bloods in order to perpetuate themselves as a society; they are never seen to have children of their own loins.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Keman literally named Shana the word "Orphan" in the Elvish language. While this worked perfectly well as a name while she was living with dragons and mostly speaking their language, it really should have caused a few awkward conversations once she left the dragons and spent most of her time speaking elvish.
  • Hybrid Power: All halfbloods have the magic ability of elves and the Psychic Powers of humans.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: The elves age at the same rate as humans up until they are physically adults, then age extremely slowly, living about 1,000 years.
  • Insult to Rocks: In Elvenborn, Kyrtian and his bodyguard Gel are talking to the former's mother when Gel starts to refer to the rather unpleasant Lady Triana as a bitch before correcting himself out of deference to Lady Lydiell. She then says, "I wouldn't call Triana a 'bitch', Gel. It's a terrible insult to all female canines, which are, on the whole, rather nice creatures."
  • Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality:
    • Male elves usually have far more magical power than females, but as it turns out, weak females have a lot more control, allowing them to do a wide variety of useful things by using very little magic to alter their surroundings, like plants (food/shelter), animals (taming/control), minds (rewriting memories), themselves (minor shapeshifting), and enemies (stopping hearts). Not as flashy as giant illusions, fireballs, earthquakes, and so forth, but it gets the job done.
    • It's implied that much of this is cultural and limited to the upper classes - noblewomen are trained in control but not for "raw power", and many Lords scorn the "weak" female arts. There are exceptions: Elflord Dyran was a dangerous enemy because he was skilled in both styles, there is a female elf "Lord" who is as strong as any of her peers, and there is also an underclass of elves who have very weak magic, male and female alike.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Implied. In the third book, Kyrtian states that the current dichotomy between powerful and non-powerful elves is due to the current powerful holding back in the major teamwork magic used to escape their original Crapsack World. This occurred several hundred years ago, and the same dynamics are still in place.
  • La RĂ©sistance: The halfbloods and dragons form one to fight the elven lords.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers: In Elvenblood, male Elves are taught combat magic, but females are taught mostly aesthetic things, such as sculpting flowers into fantastic shapes. One of the females, Sheyrena an Treves, defects to the side of the half-blood Wizards — it later turns out that she can use variants of the 'useless' female magics to make food from leaves in the wilderness, and even stop a heart.
  • Ley Line: Present everywhere in the world, although only humans and dragons can tap into them for magical power.
  • Master Race: The elves.
  • Meaningful Name: Lashana is Elvish for Orphan. Blame Keman, his mother was busy giving birth.
  • The Mole: General Kyrtian V'dyll Lord Prastaran by the end of Elvenborn.
  • More than Mind Control: In Elvenborn, this is Aelmarkin's favorite past time. He picks his favorite concubine, deliberately picked to be easily duped and manipulated, and tricks them into believing that he is eternally kind, loving, and right... and then uses that belief to deliberately destroy their self-esteem and mental faculties, until they're anorexic-bulimics starving and purging themselves in a desperate attempt to be 'beautiful' even as he pretends to be concerned for their well-being and asking them to eat more. If he's feeling particularly generous, when they're near death he'll memory-wipe them and have them retrained as normal concubines again.
  • No Woman's Land: Most of the Elven Lords treat their wives and daughters better than their human slaves... somewhat... usually....
  • Oblivious Adoption: It takes Shana a while to understand that she really isn't a dragon (which, since they can shapeshift into anything is not as silly as it sounds - especially since at the time she didn't even know elves or humans still existed). Her adoptive brother Keman also thought she was a ModeLocked dragon.
  • Offing the Offspring: When elflord Dyran's heir Valyn joins the half-bloods, Dyran decides that heirs can be replaced. Valyn has just enough warning to take Dyran with him.
    Lord Dyran: I bred one son, I can breed another.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: They are shapeshifting dragons who use weather magic. They are from another world, are evidently mammalian, have electricity-based powers and poisonous talonsnote , and are supremely talented Shapeshifters. Dragon shamans are capable of using other abilities as well.
  • Our Elves Are Different: Extremely long-lived, but not immortal, the elves have powerful magic and are actually from another world where they were nearly wiped out in a long war with another faction. Since they see themselves as superior, they have no difficulty with enslaving the human race and murdering halfbreeds and magic-capable humans.
  • Our Humans Are Different: Humans are naturally suited for mentally-focused magic, such as illusions and telepathy, but have little in the way of magic pertaining to control of physical matter. This in contrast to the elves, who have considerable power insofar as physical magic and the creation of magical artifacts goes but cannot manage anything in the way of mental magic without the aid of artifacts. On those rare occasions where elves and humans produce half-elves, these possess the magic of both their parent species, making for potentially very powerful mages. Humans are also the only sapient race actually native to the story's world.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Lord Dyran doesn't stop along the road to kick dogs. This is entirely for ruthless reasons, however; he gives slaves and lower-class elves opportunities for advancement and rewards, because it makes them more loyal and useful (and incidentally makes them compete against each other for his favor, strengthening his organization). Similarly, he refuses to engage in unproductive misogyny and uses whatever tools are available to him. Do not mistake him for a Noble Demon, though, as his son found out firsthand.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: The prophecy of a Chosen One who will end elven rule was made up by rebels as a metaphorical thumb in the eye of their rulers, and absolutely nobody believes it's true. The main character happens to perfectly fit the description of this Chosen One, and by coincidence and inclination begins to fulfill the prophecy anyway.
  • Psychic Powers: The "magic" of the humans, which is typically telepathy and telekinesis.
  • Raised by Wolves: Shana doesn't really understand either human or elven society all that well, due to spending her first 16 years among dragons.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: A wizard decides that the rebellion against the elven overlords is doomed to failure and attempts to buy his survival by offering his services and his knowledge of the rebels' secrets to an elvenlord. The elvenlord smiles encouragingly, listens to him carefully... then tortures him to be sure he wasn't lying and finally reduces the man to ashes when he's done.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Pretty much any elf that doesn't look younger than 18. Lord Dyran alone is many centuries old despite appearing to be in the prime of his life.
  • Screw You, Elves!: Pretty much the basis of the entire trilogy.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Even the dragons don't all know who made up the Elvenbane prophecy, possibly of whole cloth. The elves' paranoia leads them to hunt down and slaughter all halfbloods on sight (or before sight, if they can get them en utero), which in turns causes the halfbloods to hate and eventually go to war with them. Alara reflects on this early in Elvenbane, mentally snarking that, 'there's nothing like a life of luxury to make thoughts of revolution melt like snow in the sun.'
  • Shapeshifter Baggage: Averted, the dragons shift their excess mass to another dimension they call the Out. They cannot assume a form larger than themselves and they can only shift so much mass depending on individual ability.
  • Shapeshifting Heals Wounds: In Elvenbane, Keman figures out that the reason older dragons don't stay injured long is they use their shapeshifting to shift the wounded tissue from injured to intact. When he tries it, Keman finds it works, but also hurts like hell, since he's suffering the healing pain over several minutes instead of over several days.
  • She Is the King: One female elf holds the title of Elvenlord. The title's traditionally masculine, and elf women are not supposed to be Lords because they're not supposed to know the greater magics of elven men. The exception is able to call herself Lord because Asskicking Leads to Leadership, which trumps all other concerns.
  • Slave Collar:
    • In The Elvenbane, the elves use magical collars to control both their human slaves and elven subordinates.
    • When the main characters in Elvenblood are taken prisoner by the Iron People, they are made to wear iron collars that block their natural magic talents.
  • Sssssnaketalk: Lampshaded by Keman, who speaks this way when first introduced because that's what's expected from a dragon.
  • Shoutout: A history book mentions three sisters who attempted to find a tripartite talisman to use against the elves; this is presumably a shout-out to Black Trillium, which Norton cowrote.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Powerful elvish spellcasters produce children who are powerful, weak casters produce weak children, and intermarriage between strong and weak produces a child of intermediate power. At least in the first book, it's never explained where powerful spellcasters came from in the first place, but their attempts to stay powerful through the generations have led to severe inbreeding. Human spellcasting is also inherited, but in defiance of the trope it's an indirect and imprecise pattern. (Elves and humans aren't even from the same world, so the implication is that human magical power is determined through standard genetics, with multiple genes influencing power levels, and elvish magical power is determined through something else entirely. Then again, elves and humans can interbreed, which shouldn't be possible for two species with very different genes. Then again again, it's a fantasy story—what do you expect?)
  • Surprise Incest: Subverted in The Elvenbane when Valyn is determined to push away Shana even though he admits that she is lovely and knows that she has a massive crush on him. He does this because he suspects that she is his half-sister. He actually goes so far as to set her up with his sidekick in a "handfasting" ritual. However, he picks up the Idiot Ball when he refuses to tell her why he is rejecting her even though she is hurt and angry about it. His excuse? She was Raised by Wolves (or dragons, in her case) and he's not sure if such things matter to her, in spite of the fact that she has already shown herself to be intelligent and fairly well-versed in human and elven culture.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The estates of House Prastaran, at least by the standards of the bulk of Elvenkind, whose treatment of humans generally ranges from chattel to cattle. House Prastaran handles things in a manner far closer to unusually egalitarian/idealized English squiresnote  and have to put considerable effort into stage-managing the visits of outsiders.
  • The Unfavorite:
    • Sheyrena an Treves gets this from both parents to a degree. Her father Lord Tylar is openly emotionally abusive towards her and considers her brother Lorryn his prized possession because she is female. Her mother Viridina fusses over Lorryn and is borderline neglectful towards her because Rena is a full blooded elf, and most of her attention is focused on making sure nobody finds out the girl's (half-)brother is not.
    • Shana's foster sister Myrenateli claims to be this; but it was hard for the shaman Alamarana not to be disappointed in a daughter that was blatantly selfish, lazy, malicious, and somewhat stupid.
  • Unicorn: They're beautiful, but also carnivorous, extremely aggressive, and really, really stupid. They're what happens when an elf designs a warsteed. Ironically enough, they proved impossible for the (male) elf soldiers to control, attacking their riders as readily as their enemies. It takes Sheyrena, the 'small-magic' female who has actual practice in things other than flower-sculpting, messing with their heads before they're actually useful (and even then it's only for certain definitions of useful; they can't be controlled, only allowing Rena and Lorryn to sit on their backs while they go wherever they were planning to go anyway, and Rena implies that if a fight started their instincts would reassert themselves and they'd be more dangerous to the riders than to the enemy).
  • Whammy Bid: Shana is being auctioned off by the elves. She's about to be sold for 200 gold pieces when a new bidder in Lord Dyran's livery bids 300. Twisted a bit, in that the real reason no one counter-bids is that no one is suicidal enough to cross Lord Dyran. Twisted further, in that the bidder isn't one of Lord Dyran's men.

Alternative Title(s): The Elvenbane, Elvenblood, Elvenborn